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Last month, a £19m grant from the government allowed the first driverless car to be tested on the streets of Britain, with trials set to take place in Bristol, Greenwich, Coventry and Milton Keynes to test different aspects of driverless technology.
All of the tests will take place away from public roads, nevertheless they will make autonomous vehicles become much more of a reality in the UK. But, will Britain ever reach the point where driverless cars will be entirely safe on the roads?
Trusted Dealers investigates below the 8 reasons why we think driverless cars might never take off.
1. The weather’s poor
So far, all of the testing of autonomous cars has been done in the warm Californian climate, but take the car out of its comfort zone and you’ll discover that currently the lasers and cameras are not designed to recognise challenging weather conditions such as thick fog, heavy rain, ice and snow. When a self-driving car cannot recognise the snow and ice and starts to feel challenged, it will either stop or return control to the human driver, therefore experts have admitted it will be decades before automated cars will be capable of dealing with unexpected elements.
2. Noises cannot be heard
Driverless cars are currently unable to interpret emergency sirens – if cars were ever going to be allowed onto the streets, they would have to recognise these noises and respond appropriately if a police officer was to stop them, or an ambulance was trying to get past.
Driverless cars could increase the risk of accidents among motorists who continue to use manual cars, if both cars are allowed to mix on the same roads. Research conducted by engineers in driving simulators has revealed than human drivers’ behaviour alters significantly when sharing the same road as a driverless car – they start to copy the driving styles of the autonomous cars. But while an autonomous vehicle is equipped with sensors that are able to react almost instantaneously to an obstruction, the human reaction times are slower.
4. Reversing is tricky
Self-driving cars have yet to master the art of reversing without human assistance. It shouldn’t be a problem to master, but at present it remains less of a priority to developers, yet an essential element to enable the day-to-day driving of a autonomous car.
5. What about insurance?
How insurance policies will work for driverless cars is one of the biggest unanswered questions so far and had sparked lots of political debate. The big question is, should a self-driving car be involved in an accident, exactly WHO is responsible for the pay out? Is it the insurance company, or is it the car-owner? This remains one of the major barriers between letting driverless cars loose on the roads.
6. The public aren’t keen
A recent survey from price comparison site uSwitch.com revealed that many members of the public are too scared to even set foot in driverless cars. Half of Britons admitted they would be unwilling to be passengers in driverless cars due to concerns over their own safety, whilst 16 per cent were ‘horrified’ by the idea of an unmanned vehicle on the UK’s roads. Forty per cent of those surveyed said they would not trust an autonomous car to drive safely and felt that the welfare of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians would be put at risk.
7. Vulnerable to hacks
Is the software that powers these driverless cars vulnerable to hacks? Cyber security and transport experts stress the need for driverless cars to be well protected from hackers who could take control of vehicles and cause chaos on the roads. The reliability and security of software poses a major issue for manufacturers and insurers and engineers will have to guarantee that the technology is ‘bug free’ before we can even consider the full use of autonomous vehicles on Britain’s roads.
If the driverless car is going to stand a chance in a crowded market, manufacturers will have to guarantee that the price will be competitive. Market researchers IHS Automotive forecast that the price for the self-driving technology will add between £4,500 and £7,000 to a car’s price tag in 2025, a figure that will drop to around £3,000 in 2030 and £2,000 in 2035.
Will people be willing to pay a premium to put their lives in the hands of a computer? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.